Jan 19, 2022 - Health

The end of the Omicron wave is in sight

Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

The Omicron wave is likely beginning to recede in the U.S., experts say.

Why it matters: Omicron is still wreaking havoc in parts of the country, but infectious disease experts are optimistic that relief is around the corner.

Details: In South Africa and in the U.K., which experienced their Omicron waves before the U.S., cases spiked dramatically and then fell almost as quickly.

  • That appears to be happening now in parts of the U.S. that got hit with the variant early, including Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.

"The trajectory was incredibly steep and rising to, of course, a new height in infections. That does appear now, in aggregate, to be starting to decline," Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Axios.

Yes, but: While cases are beginning to fall in the East Coast cities that were among the first to see the variant take hold, Omicron likely hasn't peaked yet in other parts of the U.S.

  • "In this country as a whole, it might take a while longer to resolve this surge," in comparison to South Africa or the U.K., Dan Barouch, director of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, told Axios.
  • U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned over the weekend that a "national peak" hasn't been reached yet, urging caution as hospitalizations continue to strain health systems, the Washington Post reported.

What's next: Even though Omicron seems to cause milder illness than prior variants, it has still strained hospitals' resources, and the virus has continued to kill more than 1,000 people per day, on average.

  • The U.S. surpassed 850,000 total COVID deaths according to data released over the weekend, just one month after recording 800,000 deaths related to the virus.
  • "Unfortunately, the 'loss of life peak' is still ahead of us and we're probably going to see that in the next week, or two," Beyrer said.

Yes, but: The U.S. does seem to be largely tracking with the projections from South Africa with this variant, Bob Wachter, chairman of the University of California, San Francisco Department of Medicine, told Axios.

  • If there is no variant right behind Omicron, we could be in for a "fairly benign period where it will be appropriate to live life more normally" this spring, he said.
  • "It really does feel like the building blocks of a conversion from pandemic to endemic are all there," Wachter said. But, he said, "over the past two years, if we've learned nothing else, it's that this virus surprises us and there are always the possibility of new factors and curveballs."
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